Minister insists transit plans still on track – Metro US

Minister insists transit plans still on track

Ottawa moving ‘quickly’ on new, promised projects

Perhaps the federal government thought it could ignore the City of Toronto’s cries for help in funding infrastructure, but now Prime Minister Stephen Harper also risks alienating urban voters throughout the GTA and beyond.

Mayors across Canada want to make the Conservatives politically responsible for a national repair bill of aging bridges, transit systems and waterworks — a backlog currently at $123 billion.

This boggling amount doesn’t cover needed expansion, just overdue maintenance.

As long as Mayor David Miller remained the loudest voice demanding Parliament fund urban needs, Ottawa could count on anti-Toronto sentiment in ignoring pleas for help.

Then Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion recently announced a surprise tax hike — and hung the blame around Ottawa’s neck.

Few people claim McCallion’s city needs to get its “house in order,” giving her widespread credibility on finances.

Even if her concerns weren’t echoed by mayors far and wide, McCallion’s sharp criticism should be enough to get Harper thinking hard about cities.

It’s true that municipalities are not a federal responsibility, but it’s Ottawa that is raking in tax revenues right now.

By appearing to brush off $100 billion-plus in necessary nationwide repairs, while instead focusing on tax cuts, the Conservatives risk losing votes in every city with overburdened transit, corroding bridges or water pipes long past their prime.

The feds can fix their image by showing clearly how they are spending already promised funds, and by proving they can co-operate with Queen’s Park and urban politicians to fund a fair share of infrastructure.

Right now, the Conservatives appear as if they don’t really want to release money — even for projects to which they have already committed.

As for the bureaucratic process that ensures transit plans meet federal guidelines, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon tells In Transit this “is NOT slowing/delaying any planned construction activity.” (The emphasis is not mine.)

He states that current negotiations on already-promised transit projects are moving “as quickly as possible” between Ottawa and lower-tier governments.

Cannon’s office reports that final OKs for Bus Rapid Transit lines in Brampton and Mississauga are expected before Christmas.

Last Friday, the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (of which McCallion and Miller are members) approved a second round of initial transit projects ahead of next spring’s expected Regional Transportation Plan.

In a welcome surprise, the list includes a plan to expand train and signal capacity on the overcrowded Yonge subway as a precursor to extending the line toward Richmond Hill.

This request for funds must first go officially to Queen’s Park, but Ottawa can at least express a clear willingness to work with its counterparts by evaluating and helping pay for these and dozens of important transit lines desperately needed in the GTA.

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Ed Drass has been covering transportation issues in Toronto since 1998. He has a degree in urban studies from York University and regularly rides transit in the GTA and elsewhere.